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Museums and Wellbeing

An important focus of the work we do in the Community Learning Team is working in partnership with local services that provide mental health support for people. We do this in a whole range of ways - this might be taking objects out into hospital wards, running projects with partners such as the GLYOT 'Whatever' Project and offering training for professionals who work in mental health settings.

We also want people visiting the museum to find out about the work of these vital support organisations and to have an opportunity to have conversations with people who use these services.

So on a busy Thursday in October half term, we worked with Lewish Mental Health Connection to run an event that approached the idea of how culture and creativity can help improve mental wellbeing.

Exploring objects as part of our Wellbeing event.

It was brilliant day with over 600 people taking part. In Gallery Square LMHC had an information stall and a Time to Change Champion was there to have conversations with visitors about mental health.

Arts Network ran a ‘wellbeing’ trail around the museum. They asked people to find ‘wellbeing checkpoints’ in the museum and do an activity there that could help them reach their ‘5 ways to wellbeing’.

These included ‘Take Notice’ – where people had to explore a museum object and find out more and ‘Give’ – where visitors pledged to do something to help another person or improve their wellbeing.

A snap of our sand mandala workshop.

Quo Vadis Trust ran a sand mandala making workshop where visitors created a mandala together then swept it away.

Some pledges from our tree.

Each participant left with a small amount of sand in these beautiful envelopes hand drawn by Sarah from QVT.

An envelope featuring a mandala.

Equinox Care ran a workshop for families about playing games together – or as described by one of the children who took part:

“we played a fun game, we split into groups and made a moving vehicle and we made up stories – it was so fun”.

To finish the day Hexagon Housing Association ran a wonderfully calm Mindfulness Session in the Hands on Base. We spent time holding museum objects, relaxing and noticing the sensations that happen as you connect with an object in your hands.


Project Coral at Charterhouse Aquatics

On Saturday 14 November, Charterhouse Aquatics hosted a fundraising event at their showroom in Haggerston to raise awareness and support for the ground-breaking Project Coral.

A couple of years ago, the Horniman Aquarium became the first institution globally to purposefully reproduce broadcast coral in captivity. This significant achievement led to Project Coral, an innovative coral sexual reproductive research project, run by the Horniman Aquarium with international partners.

The current phase of the project is mirroring in the Horniman laboratory the conditions of the wild reefs, to predictably spawn broadcast coral. We do this using microprocessor technologies to explore the influences of the lunar cycle, diurnal changes, seasonal temperature changes, solar irradiation patterns and nutritional input on gamete (egg and sperm) production and release.

In time, the aim is to push the laboratory reef into a future environmental state. This will allow the team to investigate the effects of climate change on coral reproduction before it happens in the wild; and to understand what is needed to preserve this vital element of the world’s ecology and economy.

The Charterhouse Aquatics event was a great success in generating public awareness for Project Coral and raising vital funds. Customers, hobbyists and the general public met with Jamie and there were three fascinating presentations throughout the day and evening, a DJ spinning tunes, a raffle and a chance to see a stunning Project Coral tank display now on show at Charterhouse Aquatics.


Collected and Possessed, a new exhibition

Last night the Horniman was a hive of activity as we held the private view of our beautiful new exhibition with artist Mark Fairnington, 'Collected and Possessed'.

It was a great chance for art lovers, funders and Benefactors of the Horniman to get up close to the vast canvases that Mark has produced.

The exhibition is a wonderful collaboration between an artist and a museum, and Mark has managed to bring objects from our stores, many of which are rarely seen even by our behind-the-scenes staff, and present them in breath-taking detail.

One of my favourite pieces is Prodigy, which is displayed opposite two life-size paintings of imposing bulls. Unlike the bovine counterparts, Prodigy is an intimate snapshot of an eye, rendered in hyper-realism, with very fine detail that highlights each individual hair.

My favourite piece, Prodigy

The painting is so detailed even the eye reflects a figure back at the viewer, encouraging you to evaluate and reconsider the idea of looking at an object, and it looking back.

This exhibition is also a first for the Horniman, as it was a generously crowd funded by our fans with the support of the Art Fund. The exhibition opens November 28th until January 24th, so be sure not to miss it, whether you love art, the Horniman, or both, this exhibition is a must see.

To help support our future exhibitions, why not become a member or donate to the Horniman, information here

West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song

The British Library has put together a new exhibition on the power of the word – written, spoken and sung – in West Africa, and the Horniman has contributed by lending items from both the Anthropology and Musical Instruments collections.

The exhibition opened to coincide with Black History month earlier this year, and is exploring a range of fascinating stories from the region’s 17 nations. Focusing on West African history, life and culture over the last three centuries, it covers from the great African empires of the Middle Ages to the cultural dynamism of West Africa today.

Using a range of collections they have looked at text, story and writing and how words can be used to build and change societies, to challenge and resist, and sustain life and dignity. The exhibition highlights the rich manuscript heritage of West Africa and the coming of printing, as well as oral genres, past and modern.

The Horniman has loaned a talking drum and lamellaphone from our Musical Instruments collection and a Bwa plank mask, Gelede mask and divination board from our Anthropology collection to help bring the printed and written works to life.

West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song is on at the British Library until Tue 16 Feb 2016

Peoplescape Theatre at the Horniman Museum and Gardens

This week at the Horniman we saw the final performance of Tom’s Ship of Stories by Peoplescape Theatre. This interactive theatre show is the culmination of a project which has been running for over a year. 

Peoplescape Theatre, in conjunction with the Horniman, Cutty Sark and National Maritime Museum have worked with SEN Primary Schools local to each museum to create a story inspired by their collections. 

Outreach workshops in Brent Knoll, Willowdene & Stephen Hawkins schools, gave pupils the opportunity to create the story, decide on the characters and develop the plot.  Peoplescape then helped develop this into an interactive performance. 

There were opportunities for all to take part; scrubbing the decks and singing shanties, helping Tom overcome some troubles on his travels and multi-sensory experiences for the audience to enjoy; such as smelling tea leaves and feeling cherry blossom petals fall from the sky!

Local SEN Primary Schools had the opportunity to come and enjoy one of 5 free performances at the Horniman. The legacy of this partnership will be the creation of a new facilitated schools session for SEN schools.

Secrets from Olympus

Ancient Greece is perhaps one of the most famous periods of human history. The gods and goddesses of mythology are passed on to us through story telling, museums and some frankly awful (and some amazing) films.

With our Secret Late event this week it got me thinking about how much we actually know about these gods, and what secrets they had. Not everything is well documented and known, in fact some of those devious gods seem to have had a few secrets of their own...


Aphrodite, the foam born Goddess of Love, is one of the oldest gods from the Greek pantheon. She is married to the god Hephaestus, but they didn't exactly have the most stable of marriages.

Aphrodite with her son, the winged Eros

In fact, Aphrodite kept many secrets from her husband and had affairs with other gods such as: Poseidon, god of the sea, Dionysos, the god of wine and Nerites a sea god who she turned into a clam when he refused to leave the sea for her.

Her long relationship with Aries, the War God, was her most famous clandenstine affair, and is even mentioned in Homer's Odyssey. Despite all her cunning, she wasn't the best at keeping secrets and inevitably her husband would find out.

Demeter and the Eleusinian Mysteries

Demeter is a personal favourite of mine, she is the mother of Persephone who was kidnapped by the god of the underworld but is eventually returned after sixth months. Demeter's changing mood at having her daughter with her were believed to influence the seasonal change.

Teracottas like this may depict the goddess Demeter

The Eleusinian mysteries were a cult honouring Demeter, but the activities were a secret and never written down. Only initiates to the cult knew what was hidden within the kiste (a sacred chest) and kalathos (basket), I'm guessing something shiny.


Ok not Ancient Greek (originally a Persian deity renamed Mithras in Greek), but the cult of Mithras is perhaps one of the most famous secrets from the Ancient World.

This replica Greek cup represents a bull, a popular motif with the Greek god Zeus and the illusive Mithras.

Like the Eleusinian Mysteries this was Mystery Religion, meaning only the initiates knew what happened inside the temples. Mithras was popular with the Roman military, although he is a far older god, and often features Tauroctony, which means a bull slaying scene. No one really knows what this scene might mean, the bull is probably a sacrifice, perhaps he represents the Greek god Zeus and marks the end of the old rule and a celebration of the new Roman Empire, or perhaps it links to a Zoroastrian myth with a similar story?

We will probably never unfathom these secrets, and I for one love that!

If you fancy sharing in some secrets with us this week, be sure to pop along to our Secret Late this Thursday evening.

Conservation of a trailing feather war bonnet

Hello! My name is Sarah, and I am the new student placement in Conservation. I have recently been spending a lot of my time treating a trailing war bonnet used in a Wild West show. You might be wondering what a trailing war bonnet is, well…

A Kiowa tribe war bonnet at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution (2/8375).  Photo by NMAI Photo Services.

A war bonnet is a form of ceremonial headdress worn by men of various Native American and First Nations tribes in the Plains area of the United States and Canada.

Traditionally, each feather was taken from the tail of a golden eagle, and was intended to commemorate an act of bravery performed in the wearer’s life. Sometimes the tips were dyed red to indicate a particularly significant act.

The war bonnet before treatment.  It will be displayed in the redeveloped anthropology gallery.

The war bonnet that I am working on is a replica created as a prop. It was made of white goose feathers that were painted, with red feathers attached to the tips. Despite its beauty from far away, it is quite dirty and requires a lot of work before it can be put on display in the newly redeveloped anthropology galleries.

My current work with the headdress is focused on the condition of the feathers. Some time ago someone tried to make the feathers more stable by putting adhesive on them to keep them from moving. Unfortunately, after all of that time, the adhesive has started to peel off and become dirty.

Before the adhesive was removed from the feather (above) and after (below).

Sometimes this happens in conservation. Conservators can’t see into the future, and sometimes unexpected things happen to objects that we were unable to foresee. It can be a challenge, but we try to keep a close eye on our objects to minimize that risk.

Removing adhesive off of the inside of a feather using a homemade cotton swab.

My job now is to remove all of the dirty, peeling adhesive so that the feathers are in a more stable state. This involves me using a cotton swab (I make my own!) dipped in solvent, and gently rolling it over the surface of the adhesive until it lifts away.
It takes a long time! So far, I’ve spent 14 hours delicately taking off the adhesive, and I’m not done yet! But the end result looks much better than before treatment, and the feathers are in much better shape.

After I have finished removing the adhesive, I will be repairing some of the feathers that have been bent or broken, and cleaning the dirt that has collected on the feathers over time.


Photography on a Large Scale

One of the aims of the Collections People Stories project is to properly image and accurately document a much larger part of our Anthropology collections than has ever been done before. While most of our objects are fairly small, the size of some objects offer some extra challenges.

In June 2014, I started planning for the “Long Object Photography” Project, which was about photographing very long objects from our Anthropology collection as part of the Collection People Stories Project that had been running since June 2012.

The objects to be photographed by me and reviewed by the CPS teams were mainly canoes, some of them up to 7.5metres long. Some of these object had no record shots or if they had they were not good enough for a documentation point of view.

The main issue was space: where to photograph such long objects? Our studio space wouldn’t be big enough so my first idea was to photograph them outside but in order to do so we would need to build a marquee to protect the objects from the environment.

After a lot of discussions and visits from specialist art movers we realised that the biggest canoe would only come out of its storage if the entire shelf surrounding it came apart and for that to happen we would need to make a lot of space beforehand, breaking down other shelves around it.

Once this was agreed, I then reassessed the area and came up with an indoors solution for the photography set up, which not only would allow the objects to be in a safer environment but also meant we would spend much less on hiring the marquee. This new solution meant that all the electric cables and wires attached to the photographic equipment would be hanging from the ceiling, meaning a much safer working condition for all the staff needed to make this project happen.

On 24th November, the specialist art movers arrived and started breaking down Hall 1 at SCC – the Horniman Museum storage area where the canoes are located – and leaving the canoes ready for the conservators to clean them.

On the 5th December we started the photography – which was like being in a film set, with lots of people around where each had their own role and just had to be waiting to get in action when needed. By the end of the week we had managed to photograph and review the objects and on the following week the art movers put everything back in place.

I also made a time-lapse of the whole process, so you can have a taste of how it all worked out. A bit of a behind the scene!

 You can find out more about our behind the scenes work at our event Secret Late.

Behind closed doors...

We take a look at some of our museum's buildings, which will be part of our Secret Late's behind the scenes tour.

Our famous clocktower and building that faces London Road was built in 1898, designed by Charles Harrison Townsend. In addition to the Horniman, Townsend also designed the Whitechapel Gallery and Bishopsgate Institute.

Townsend's clocktower

The clock tower's jolly yellowish colour comes from the Doulting stone used to make it. This iconic limestone comes from the Doulting Stone Quarry in Somerset and is one of the oldest quarries in England, having been used during the Roman occupation of Britain.

Our African Worlds gallery as well as the South Hall gallery with our temporary exhibitions Revisiting Romania and Project Tobong are in the original museum building, but the displays are very different from the originals.

An archive photo of Emslie's lecture theatre and the old library

In 1912, Frederick Horniman's son, Emslie, funded the building of a new lecture theatre and library at the museum which were added next to the 19th century building.

Since Emslie's additions we have gradually added to the original site, or had restoration work on our original features. The iconic Bandstand, also a Townsend design, is over 100 years old and enjoyed a renovation of its oak floor and weather vane as part of our large redevelopment of the gardens in 2012.

A band playing on our Bandstand in 1943

Now, the Bandstand hosts our summer concerts, storytelling and is a popular wedding venue location thanks to its magnificent view over South London and the South Downs.

As part of our Secret Late event in November you will be able to get behind the scenes in some of our galleries and displays. I'd love to tell you where you will be exploring, but that would ruin the Secret!

What Horniman secrets will you discover?

From exhibition layouts, to collections care, aquarium research to music, lots goes on behind the scenes here at the Horniman, so be sure to join us next Thursday for our Secret Late, but don't tell anyone...



Enter a European Design Challenge

Calling all designers, makers, creatives and crafts-people! Have you ever been inspired while visiting a museum?

The Horniman is a partner in a Europe-wide project called Europeanan Food and Drink. It aims to create exciting products inspired by Europe's rich food and drink heritage.

Our recently launched web app Tea Trail London is our contribution to the project.

The project has recently launched a product design challenge with two prizes of €2,000.

Explore food and drink related collections (like those above) in Europeana and also on the Horniman site.

Use the inspiration you find there to design a 2D or 3D product - it could be product packaging, towls or tiles or something we've not thought about so far. The two winners (one for 2D and one for 3D) will receive €2,000 which will be presented at a Challenge Event in January in Seville, Spain.

To enter, make a short video explaining your product idea.

The closing date for entries is 20 December 2015. There is lots more information on the Europeana Food and Drink website

We'd love to see your ideas. If you have any questions, feel free to tweet us or Europeana Food and Drink.


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